“Consider carefully, Doctor. I’m offering you a half-share in the universe.” – The Master
I always have to remind myself not to dismiss this one because my first memory of it from childhood was rather a negative one. I initially thought of it as a really boring story without much happening; I now know that this is not the case. Instead, it’s a well written drama with themes and events that touch on the topics of corporate greed, capitalist forces, socialist idealism, the plight of farmers, environmentalism, colonialism, the treatment of indigenous populations, and the corruption of power—all presented in the interesting milieu of space colonists versus an intergalactic mining company. All of this went over my head as a kid of course and I just saw was the lack of monsters.
As I’ve watched this story more, I’ve come to appreciate how well the writer presents not only the events in the story but also does a good bit of world-building as to the state of future earth through both dialogue (“No room to move. Polluted air. Not a blade of grass left on the planet, and a government that locks you up if you think for yourself.”), news clips, and implied causes. Just the fact that members of a mining company can be granted opportunity to represent the interests (and therefore authority) of the government itself shows that rule of law and justice are bendable in this era. Needless to say this leads to corruption and abuse of authority, the heart of what this story is about.
There were two things I did really like about the story as a child (and still do). The first were the indigenous aliens (no matter how obvious the costumes are) and their different levels of primitive warriors, blind priests, and eerie shriveled godlike leader. The thought of them having been this advanced super-race that crumbled into a primitive society after its drive for power led to a weapon that brought about their own destruction is a parallel even a child could get but more . I also liked how the Brigadier sees the Doctor leave and yells after him to “come back at once” and, after an entire narrative of events on the colonial planet in between, they return to that exact moment as the Brig smugly smiles at the Doctor having obeyed his order. The idea of a lot of time passing for the TARDIS crew but not from the perspective of another character at their return is a fun notion that had not been used much up to this point in the show and is effectively presented as a bookending of the story.
It’s surprising to us as viewers when the story opens up with one of the few appearances of the Time Lord council to this point and impressive to see these beings discussing their “use” for the Doctor. It sets up events in the story without really telling us what to expect which kind of lends some mystery to the rather slow start. Though they mention the Master, his appearance as the adjudicator still comes as a surprise. It’s actually clever how his plan comes together in manipulating the situation to get the colonists to trust him and show where the primitive city is, especially as we only learn all of this step by step along with the main characters. It’s almost funny how the Master does a double-take at the Doctor unexpectedly walking in but he also does a good job smoothly cornering the Doctor not to unmask him either.
They have some funny back and forth jabs, but the debate between the Doctor and the Master about the use of the doomsday super weapon is particularly well done. The Master tries to appeal to the Doctor through their similar situations (“We’re both Time Lords, we’re both renegades”) and to sway him with the one temptation that he knows might actually cause Doctor to use such a powerful tool, the illusion of doing good. (“Absolute power! Power for good. Why, you could reign benevolently, you could end wars, suffering, disease. We could save the universe!”) Fortunately, the Doctor will have none of it and affirms that such absolute power is nothing but wrong. We also get a very good look at the Master’s motivations—not wealth or acclaim but a simple drive never to be an underling. (“Look at all those planetary systems, Doctor. We could rule them all!” “What for? What is the point?” “The point is that one must rule or serve – that’s a basic law of life!”)
On a less grand scale, the character of Caldwell presents us with a great crisis of conscience as he struggles between filling his role in IMC (which will bring him wealth and relief from debt) and his disgust at the ever increasing realization of what his company is doing to the colonists. Several instances you can see clearly his internal struggle and, though he makes the right decision a few times, the writer allows for several very realistic instances where he backpedals from these and then tries to justify and downplay the situation to ease his mind. This is much more realistic than a sudden conversion. In then end, it’s when he thinks that his inactions have actually killed the colonists (especially the young Mary who begged for his help) that he is firmly resolute.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
The appearance of the alien leader, a shriveled and stunted godlike creature, scared me as a child and is seared as a major unsettling moment in this story for me even now. Since it’s so obviously just a puppet, I do however wonder if that scene would be as affecting if I only saw it first as an adult. The slowly dawning realization that Ashe must have stayed on the spaceship to pilot it before it exploded, nobly sacrificing himself to save everyone, is probably a better pick.
- “Escape” from exile
- Doctor has to consider and reject the chance to rule
Best “Doctorish” line:
Caldwell: Are you some kind of scientist?
Doctor: I’m every kind of scientist!
We see the rocket ship of the Master (as the Adjudicator) fly in but it’s later revealed to be his TARDIS. This either means that his TARDIS was actually inside the spaceship (but attached such that the whole thing could later dematerialize) or, more likely, that a TARDIS disguised as an object can actually operate physically as that object. Thus the Master could have driven around his horse trailer or the Doctor really could use the police box phone.
Yes, the costumes of the aliens are a bit unbelievable but a little imagination and understanding of what they were aiming at can overcome some of that. I do wish they’d done a better job with the projection of the “lizard monster”; even though it actually is supposed to be fake in the end, while we’re seeing the initial attack we don’t know that and it instead looks like a cheap attempt at using stock footage as a special effect. It really turned me off to this story as a child. Also why does the alien leader willingly destroy his entire race to self-destruct the weapon? Couldn’t he have had them all leave first? My only other quibble is that Mary is shown bright and cheery at the end despite the fact that her father just died. While she obviously could have been accepting of it as a sacrifice, she still would have been at least a little teary at this stage?